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"What's right is right:" Widowed lesbian pushes for equal military benefits

When her spouse was killed in Afghanistan, Tracy Johnson drove across town to her mother-in-law’s house — clutching her marriage certificate — so she could hear the Army’s formal notification. No one from the military came to her door.

She later watched as the American flag that cloaked the coffin of her spouse, Donna Johnson, was offered, not to her, but to Donna Johnson’s mother – the next of kin, as U.S. law stipulates. She was denied death benefits, she said, that are standard issue to heterosexual spouses of service members who die in action: free health care, tuition assistance, and monthly indemnity compensation of about $1,200.

“I’m not considered ‘family’ (by the military). I’m not considered a spouse and I’m damn sure not considered a widow, by definition,” said Johnson, an Army National Guard staff sergeant who served in Iraq. “We didn’t marry for any of those benefits. We married out of love.

“And I’m not standing up here, whining: ‘Woe is me.’ We were adults, big girls, and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. But it doesn’t mean I have to stand idly by and see all this happen to somebody else who’s in a same-sex marriage (in the military).”

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